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QUERCUS agrifolia

Image of Quercus agrifolia

Felder Rushing

Family

Fagaceae

Botanical Name

QUERCUS agrifolia

Plant Common Name

California Live Oak

General Description

The gnarled, picturesque trunks and aged branches of the California live oak have interesting evergreen, holly-like foliage. It naturally resides along the coasts and foothills from Central California southward into Mexico. Its bark is smooth and gray but becomes darker and mildly furrowed with great age.

The leathery dark green leaves of California oak are oval to elliptical in shape with spiny teeth along the edges. They are evergreen but shed in abundance in spring before quickly being replaced. As the new leaves open, the male flowers appear. These greenish pendent catkins spread copious amount of pollen and are directly followed by the female flowers, which are tiny, red and found at the base of the young leaves. The fruits are pointy light brown acorns that mature late in the season.

Plant California live oak in average, well-drained soil that is acid to slightly alkaline. It is important to refrain from overwatered or fertilizing established trees as this can cause stress and decline. In summer the roots should be kept dry but the trees may appreciate supplemental irrigation during unseasonably dry winters. Sadly, this species is susceptible to the sudden oak death, so keep an eye out for symptoms like bleeding cankers on the trunk and branch dieback.

This elegant, picturesque tree has been in the backdrops of many classic Hollywood movies. It adopts its best looks if planted in open, windy areas where it can become large and sprawl. It naturally branches low, so street tree specimens must be limbed up for safe vehicle and pedestrian passage.

California wildlife also appreciate this oak. The acorns are eaten by small animals, and the leaves are important food for the larvae of California sister and duskywing butterflies.

To distinguish this oak from the similar canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis), note that the canyon oak's leaves are slightly smaller and its acorns have fuzzy golden caps.

Characteristics

  • AHS Heat Zone

    12 - 9

  • USDA Hardiness Zone

    9 - 11

  • Sunset Zone

    7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

  • Plant Type

    Tree

  • Sun Exposure

    Full Sun, Partial Sun

  • Height

    20'-70' / 6.1m - 21.3m (50)

  • Width

    40'-90' / 12.2m - 27.4m (70)

  • Bloom Time

    Early Spring

  • Native To

    United States, California, Mexico

Growing Conditions

  • Soil pH

    Acidic, Neutral

  • Soil Drainage

    Well Drained

  • Soil type

    Clay, Loam, Sand

  • Tolerances

    Pollution, Drought, Salt

  • Growth Rate

    Slow

  • Water Requirements

    Drought Tolerant

  • Habit

    Spreading

  • Seasonal Interest

    Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter

Ornamental Features

  • Flower Interest

    Insignificant

  • Flower Color

    Red, Light Green

  • Fruit Color

    Tan, Brown

  • Foliage Color (Spring)

    Green

  • Foliage Color (Summer)

    Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Fall)

    Dark Green

  • Foliage Color (Winter)

    Dark Green

  • Bark Color

    Gray

  • Fragrant Flowers

    No

  • Fragrant Fruit

    No

  • Fragrant Foliage

    No

  • Bark or Stem Fragrant

    No

  • Repeat Bloomer

    No

  • Showy Fruit

    Yes

  • Edible Fruit

    No

  • Showy Foliage

    Yes

  • Foliage Texture

    Medium

  • Foliage Sheen

    Matte

  • Evergreen

    Yes

  • Showy Bark

    Yes

Special Characteristics

  • Bark Texture

    Smooth

  • Usage

    Feature Plant, Hedges, Shade Trees, Street Trees

  • Sharp or Has Thorns

    No

  • Invasive

    No

  • Attracts

    Birds, Butterflies

  • Self-Sowing

    Yes